Flying Fish and the Invisible River

After our struggles to make it down the west coast of Florida and around to Key West, our travels north have been far easier. We’ve made it the length of Florida in just two hops: Key West to Vero Beach and Vero Beach to Beaufort, South Carolina. On those two passages, we also started using a watch schedule, which has helped us get better rest — so my time on watch has been more relaxing, with more time to notice things on the water.

Growing up vacationing on the Atlantic coast, at places like Hilton Head, Chincoteague, Sandy Hook, and tiny Harbor Island, South Carolina. I’ve known about the effects of the Gulf Stream as long as I can remember. But the Stream, as it’s known, was always abstract, always “out there,” never something you could touch.

When Cayenne was sailing north from Key West, with Miami’s high rises in the distance, the knotmeter showed us traveling through the water at 6 knots. But Barry, standing behind the wheel, noted excitedly that the GPS showed us going almost 10 knots!

That’s when I looked at the water temperature. What had been 82 degrees Fahrenheit was now 85 degrees: We had found the Gulf Stream, the warm water that flows north along the U.S. east coast and then makes its way across the Atlantic to England. The water was not a different color, and there was nothing visible to indicate that we were in it. But finally, after all these years, I could reach out and touch the invisible river.

We’ve discovered another amazing thing on our last two passages up the coast. With all the water and sky around us, we notice every bird that goes by. But these were strange birds; they would appear as if out of nowhere, flying close to the water and then disappearing into the waves.

They weren’t birds at all, but flying fish! Sometimes we’d see one or two, but the most exhilarating thing was a whole school — or is that f lock? — of them, their silvery white bodies skimming the sky and then vanishing together into the deep blue waves. One of them missed the water and accidentally landed on Cayenne’s deck, but he managed to wiggle down to the low side of the boat and then back into the water.

My new game is timing them. It’s hard to do, because they never appear right where I am looking. By the time I catch one out of the corner of my eye, he’s been airborne for a second or two, and the longest I’ve counted is a thousand one – a thousand two – a thousand three. It seems like they fly forever, but really they’re just covering many yards of distance in a few seconds.